The Line (One chapter of a life)
A short story
By Chris Hibbard
That single line might haunt me as long as I live.
“Then you should hang up the phone and never talk to me again,” I said.
And she did.
* * *
It all started four years ago. I was a reporter in a small town, surrounded by the jagged peaks of Rocky Mountains and truck-driving miners who chugged cheap beer like it was going out of style. Not really knowing a soul, I befriended a local bartender who happened to read (a miracle in itself it seemed), and read fantasy nonetheless. That was all it took.
I had wasted countless hours of my youth lost in such realms, playing Dungeons and Dragons in not-yet smoky basements, and while my literary tastes tend to run more towards science and fact, a la Heinlein and Asimov, there will always be a special place in my heart for stories about swords and maidens and gruesome beasties.
So while I’d spend most of my nights writing stories about pot-bellied pigs, mountain pine beetles, and 50 feet of garden hose that had been reported missing by the RCMP, on my nights off, I’d go down to the pub. I’d shoot pool with Brandon the bartender until I’d had one too many, then would wander home and fall asleep watching a movie. This was my life for six months.
Then a random spark lit the underbrush in the mountains, the trees caught on fire, and she found me at the pub.
At the time, she was a bridesmaid I think. Maybe even the Maid of Honour. In fact, if memory serves correctly, the only way I knew there was a bride involved was that there was a veil, some beads, and a giant inflatable man, over inflated in certain areas. She would later tell me sometimes that I listened intently, but never really heard her. While that may be true, I’m sure I heard her say that at least, but I guess maybe I never really listened.
It was a night for Name That Tune, a night on which all the local 20-somethings gathered together to get wasted and dance, to challenge each others love of Rock and Roll, to spread gossip and hope to get laid. This was an interesting choice for a Stagette party I thought, but then again, it was a mining town. It was either this, or Karaoke at the Royal Canadian Legion 20 minutes down the highway.
Suffice it to say, this night I was on an opposing team to this bridesmaid, and while other teams blew it on songs by Iron Maiden and L.L. Cool J, it came down to us vs. them, the fantasy-geeks vs. the bridal party.
Her name was Melissa, and she gave me a run for my money. I kept getting stumped by shit like Elton John and the Eurythmics, while she kept getting easy ones like James Brown and Metallica. In retrospect, she was the type who may have rigged the game before it even began, buying off the D.J. and host with shooters, but I could not have known it then. Hindsight is always 20/20.
Either way, her team cleaned up and the game was over and before you know it, I had gone out for a smoke of sorts. By the time I got back in time inside, all the lights were on, last call was long over, and it was just Brandon and I – playing a cross-eyed game of darts and wondering what to do next. This was in June.
By July, we had crossed paths again, and I learned she was practically my neighbour. At this point I probably should have cut and run, but she was the most interesting thing to whoop my ass all summer and she was pretty easy on the eyes too.
The second time we met was at the Legion down the highway, where there was a local heavy metal band playing covers all night, an invitation that was hard to refuse. It was either live loud music, or the latest Adam Sandler movie. The Legion though did seem kind of funny I suppose. Here I am in a building intended to honour and commemorate veterans, my grandfathers, the guardians of our nation, and I was just looking forward to hearing some Sabbath and trying to pour the jug of beer without too much foam. Anyways, as it turns out, she was there with her now-married sister and brother-in-law, and they were all sitting across the table from me. I was with my roommates, two stiff professional types with ‘priorities in life’ who were wondering what they had gotten themselves into.
Did I mention that I was still on the clock? A small town reporter is never off duty. You get paid the same amount every two weeks, but you’re expected to be everywhere all the time, anytime there’s anything going on. This means that there is always a camera somewhere nearby, a pen in every pocket, cigarettes to ease tight lips, and a nose that is attuned for anything even remotely interesting.
I know, I know, the job doesn’t make for easy friendships, since one never knows when what they say off the record accidentally finds it way on to it, and what one says at the pub should never be on the record. This is not to mention that small towns are not renowned for their trust of, or fondness for strangers. Hell, I was even called City Boy on a few occasions. Granted this is because I once confessed that my high school had 2500 students, half as many people as lived in this town, but that’s neither here nor there.
Where was I? Oh yeah. Melissa. Somewhere in between banging our heads and playing ferocious air guitar, she yelled at me over the music and gave me a knockout combination of compliment and opportunity. First, she told me that I was beautiful. That’s not something that I hear very often, and it proved effective. Especially after second, when she told me she was only in town for the summer, and was going back to Manitoba in three weeks.
Needless to say, I was hooked like a mackerel on a twenty-pound test, and we were into heavy petting territory by midnight two days later. (What, do you think I’m really that easy? First date action? C’mon, I have my pride.)
But so went the next three weeks. Getting’ hot and heavy while the mountains burned outside, sitting on rooftops making out. If I had known then what I know now, (some famous words of famous losers) I might have realized that what we were watching that summer was an omen, that that fire was our future. I was living through foreshadowing, but it was too early to see it. I was living through a metaphor, but couldn’t read the poem. I was the director of my own destiny, and didn’t know when to say cut. I was getting closer to Splitsville and to that fateful line with every passing minute, enjoying the view while watching the biggest forest fire that the province had seen in decades.